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Choose your words carefully

Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Don’t complicate things by using jargon, technical terms, or abbreviations that people won’t understand. Choose your words carefully and be consistent in your writing style.

Word choice is an important part of communicating clearly. While there is generally no problem with being expressive, most federal writing has no place for literary flair. People do not curl up in front of the fire with a federal regulation to have a relaxing read.

Government writing is often stodgy, and full of dry legalisms and jargon. H.W. Fowler summed up these recommendations for making word choices in his influential book, The King’s English, first published in 1906. He encouraged writers to be more simple and direct in their style (quoted in Kimble, 2006):

  • Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
  • Prefer the concrete word to the abstraction.
  • Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
  • Prefer the short word to the long.
  • Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance word.

Kathy McGinty offers tongue-in-cheek instructions for bulking up your simple, direct sentences:

There is no escaping the fact that it is considered very important to note that a number of various available applicable studies ipso facto have generally identified the fact that additional appropriate nocturnal employment could usually keep juvenile adolescents off thoroughfares during the night hours, including but not limited to the time prior to midnight on weeknights and/or 2 a.m. on weekends.

And the original, using stronger, simpler words:

More night jobs would keep youths off the streets.